—Detail, Caravaggio, Saint Jerome Writing (1605–06). Oil on canvas, 112 x 157 cm. Galleria Borghese, Rome.
The most significant prize administered by the Sewanee Review is the Aiken Taylor Award in Modern American Poetry. It was made possible through the generous bequest of Dr. K. P. A. Taylor, a surgeon who was an excellent amateur poet, to celebrate distinguished American poets, especially his older brother Conrad Aiken.
Debora Greger and William Logan Honored
with Aiken Taylor Awards in Modern American Poetry
The Sewanee Review is proud to announce that for the first time the Aiken Taylor Award was given to two worthy poets in the same year. The 26th and 27th recipients of the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry are Debora Greger and William Logan. This year’s Aiken Taylor events took place March 19–21.
Through the generosity of Dr. K. P. A. Taylor, the Sewanee Review established an annual award in 1987 honoring an accomplished American poet for the work of his or her career. Howard Nemerov was the first poet honored and was followed by Richard Wilbur, Anthony Hecht, and W. S. Merwin. Other recipients of this important prize (which cannot be applied for) include Gwendolyn Brooks, Maxine Kumin, Wendell Berry, and, more recently, Anne Stevenson, John Haines, Donald Hall, Louise Glück, and Billy Collins.
Debora Greger is a poet and visual artist who finds inspiration for each of her genres in the other. Born in Colorado but raised in the state of Washington, Greger is the eldest of seven siblings. She earned her BA from the University of Washington and her MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and proceeded to work as a visiting professor at various universities from George Mason University to Ohio University before landing at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Greger is the author of eight books of poetry, beginning with Movable Islands in 1980 and continuing most recently with By Herself in 2012. Her award-winning collection entitled Desert Fathers, Uranium Daughters, published in 1996, draws its themes from a singular childhood—her father worked at the Hanford Site, a plutonium production facility constructed as part of the Manhattan Project in 1943, whose plutonium was used in both the first nuclear bomb ever tested and the bomb detonated over Nagasaki. Hers was a childhood lived where “even the dust, though we didn’t know it then, was radioactive.” The Nation characterizes her style as exhibiting “deadpan wit, intelligence, and marvelous insight.” Her collection Western Art (2004) earned a great deal of praise as well: one publisher exclaimed “The elegies threaded through this mature, startling book recognize life moving toward the shadows—these are poems of old responsibilities and new virtues, looking back as a way of looking forward.” Greger’s poetry has been published in numerous periodicals and reprinted in six volumes of The Best American Poetry. She has exhibited her collage artwork at several galleries and museums across the country and has designed several book covers, including William Logan’s collection Desperate Measures (2002).
"She is a poet whose intimacies are expressed in whispers, whose secrets come in sidelong glances."
Greger's work is known for its intersections of myth, fact, history, and everyday life—both in her poetry and her visual art. She encourages her writing students to find these connections as well, especially by looking for inspiration in the visual arts. Greger herself tried to submit a quilt in place of an essay when she was a student at Iowa (the effort was, unfortunately, unsuccessful). Her love for the visual is one of the main sources of her skill with the textual, allowing her to turn pictures easily into words; a reviewer for Publishers Weekly once remarked that Greger “rarely rejoices, though she can surely console; her pruned-back, autumnal sensibility and her balanced lines suit the scenes she portrays.” Perhaps it is also this connection to art that governs the subtlety for which she is known—“Debora Greger’s poems love the accident of discovery; she is a poet whose intimacies are expressed in whispers, whose secrets come in sidelong glances.”
Together with this year’s Aiken Taylor Award, Debora Greger has been the recipient of several other major awards, including the Grolier Prize in Poetry, an Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and the John William Corrington Award for Literary Excellence.
Sewanee Review Editor George Core, his wife, Susan Core,
Debora Greger, and William Logan
Blue is the sound that laps, that slaps the piers
until they’re as blue as the sky
they loft a roof against, a blue so deep, so clear
only the ribs of ice-crystal cirrus would float
over the forest of stone where air is equal parts
cold, candle wax, incense, and mold: blue the hour
when into the chapel straggle the boy sopranos,
blue the last tease drowned by the organ’s swell.
Who will be transported this evensong?
The wooden angels are dusty.
—Debora Greger, from "Blue Mirrors"
William Logan is a poet and literary critic known for formality and structure in his own writing and his sometimes scathing but always penetrating reviews. Born in Boston, Logan received a BA from Yale and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Since 1975 he has published a vast amount of work—both criticism and poetry—in such major publications as the New Yorker, the New York Times, the Paris Review, Poetry, and the New Criterion. He is the author of nine books of poetry, beginning with Sad-Faced Men in 1982 and continuing on to Madame X (2012). Along with essays and reviews, Logan has also written and edited six books of criticism, the most recent of which is Our Savage Art, published in 2009. William Logan has served as a professor of English and creative writing at the University of Florida in Gainesville since 1983, and until 2000 he was the director of the creative writing program there.
Richard Tillinghast has described Logan as an “accomplished and original poet . . . [who] writes with vigor, almost classical restraint and a fine sense of musicality.” One reviewer of Logan’s first book of poetry described his style as a “tough-minded, authentically adventurous formalism.” Donald Hall, writing a review of Logan's Night Battle (1999) in the Iowa Review, said, "Logan writes like an angel—an elegant, literary angel." In the New York Times Book Review, David Barber praised Logan as "a hard-boiled formalist with a redoubtable aptitude for tersely fastidious diction and sinewy prosody whipped into fighting trim" who "can hold his own with just about anyone in vivisecting the vanity of human wishes with savage aplomb."
"An accomplished and original poet . . . [who] writes with vigor, almost classical restraint and a fine sense of musicality."
Owing to Logan’s use of formal style in his own poetry, he tends to save his positive reviews for such well-known and often deceased formalist poets as Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop. He has, however, also praised some free-verse poets like Louise Glück. Logan reviews for the New York Times Book Review, and some of his more controversial statements have led Slate magazine to call him “the most hated man in American poetry . . . [and] its guiltiest pleasure.” However Poetry’s editor, Christian Wiman, seems to give the best analysis of the power of Logan’s criticism, saying, “William Logan is the best practical critic around. I sometimes disagree with his judgments fiercely, but that I so fiercely disagree, that his prose provokes such a response, is what makes him the best. Most criticism is like most poetry: it simply leaves you indifferent. I’ve seen Logan’s name bring bile to the lips of the gentlest spirits . . . For breadth of intelligence, an incisive style, and pure passion, I don’t think he can be matched."
In addition to this year’s Aiken Taylor Award, William Logan also has been the recipient of these awards: the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, the John William Corrington Award for Literary Excellence, and an Amy Lowell Poetry Travelling Scholarship.
The ripples calm and disperse, restore
The healing mood of winter’s arrival.
My parents, alone in their winter house,
My father, whom I do not know,
My mother, whom I know, not well—
They are not well. Diseases
Of the heart birth in silent times.
—William Logan, from “Anamnesis”
Debora Greger, Aiken Taylor Intern Catherine Clifton, and William Logan
Aiken Taylor Award Winners
1987 • Howard Nemerov (1920–1991)
1988 • Richard Wilbur (b. 1921)
1989 • Anthony Hecht (1923–2004)
1990 • W. S. Merwin (b.1927)
1991 • John Frederick Nims (1913–1993)
1992 • Gwendolyn Brooks (1917–2000)
1993 • George Starbuck (1931–1996)
1994 • Wendell Berry (b.1934)
1995 • Maxine Kumin (b.1925)
1996 • Fred Chappell (b.1936)
1997 • Carolyn Kizer (b.1925)
1998 • X. J. Kennedy (b.1929)
1999 • George Garrett (1929–2008)
2000 • Eleanor Ross Taylor (1920–2011)
2001 • Frederick Morgan (1922–2004)
2002 • Grace Schulman (b.1935)
2003 • Daniel Hoffman (1923-2013)
2004 • Henry Taylor (b.1942)
2005 • B. H. Fairchild (b.1942)
2006 • Brendan Galvin (b.1938) click here to listen
2007 • Anne Stevenson (b.1933) click here to listen
2008 • John Haines (1924-2011) click here to listen
2009 • Donald Hall (b.1928) click here to listen
2010 • Louise Glück (b.1943) click here to listen
2011 • Billy Collins (b. 1941) click here to listen
2012 • Debora Greger (b.1949) click here to listen 2013 • William Logan (b. 1950) click here to listen